The series is called "Primary Source" because Boyers's other Schubertiade is his company specializing in rare music documents, examples of which he displays at the concerts. This time, one of them was the first edition of the Sonatina, with Schubert's own handwritten initials of approval on the last page. Engaging musicologist Drew Massey gave a preconcert talk as delightful as it was informative (I can still picture Schubert watching his friends have a snowball fight).
Violinists at the BSO
The two latest BSO concerts focused on the violin. The special guest for the concert led by young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha was Frank Peter Zimmermann, a celebrity violinist who combines astounding virtuosity with serious musicianship. He played the Dvorák Violin Concerto with breathtaking authority and point, riding the memorable melodies and not allowing us to ignore the teasingly incisive Czech rhythms. The applause was so prolonged I think everyone must have hoped Zimmermann would play an encore, but apparently that didn't happen until the last of the three concerts in the series. Valcuha was ideally suited to convey these rhythms to the orchestra, something he also did in Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály's irresistibly folk-oriented Dances of Galánta. (Nice to hear that Robert Sheena, the BSO's superb English horn player, can also play a sweet oboe).
By this time I was really looking forward to what Valcuha would do with Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony — my favorite of his symphonies, because of George Balanchine's exquisite choreography, which makes visible the exquisite unfolding and refolding of Mendelssohn's themes. But Valcuha let me down. His was merely competent, more pedestrian than dancelike.
At the next concert, the exciting Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who last played with the BSO in 2008, but whose hair then was considerably shorter than his present Jesus-icon cut, returned as both soloist and conductor. He seems not ready yet to do both at the same time. He opened with Bach's D-minor Concerto, originally composed as a keyboard concerto, but which can be intense and searching on the violin, as on the great 1940 recording by Joseph Szigeti, now on Naxos, in which every note tells the most complex story. But Kavakos seemed to have no story to tell. His playing was heavy-handed and square, and he sometimes allowed the reduced orchestra of 16 strings and harpsichord to drown him out. There was a busload of high school kids from Bethesda, Maryland, in the audience, and their teachers obviously failed to tell them not to applaud after every movement. This applause was singularly inappropriate after the contemplative slow movement, which seemed so leaden that as far as I was concerned it wouldn't have earned any applause even if applause were appropriate.
Things immediately picked up when Kavakos stuck to conducting. He led the first BSO performance of Witold Lutoslawski Musique funèbre for string orchestra, the composer's 1958 threnody for Bartók, which employs many of Bartók's own devices (like themes first moving in one direction then returning later in the opposite direction), providing both a sense of movement and a moving soulfulness so lacking in the Bach. A big round of applause at the end went to Martha Babcock, whose solo cello both began and ended the piece, its four-note theme finally diminishing like a countdown to three, two, and then one single solitary fading tone.